What are some pros and cons of the U.S. legal system? 

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pohnpei397 eNotes educator| Certified Educator

The American legal system, like most legal systems, has its good and its bad points.  Let us look at some of the most important of each.

The main good point of the American legal system is that, in criminal law, people have to be proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt.  This places a very strong burden of proof on prosecutors.  This is a good thing because it makes it harder for innocent people to be convicted.

Another good point is that it is an adversarial system.  This means that people on each side of a case get to have their own lawyers to fight for them.  Any defendant, then, can have a lawyer whose only duty is to represent the client.  That lawyer will then do everything possible to get them acquitted.

A final good point is that the system limits the sorts of evidence that can be used against criminal defendants.  Police are not allowed to use evidence found in illegal searches and seizures in court.  Defendants cannot be made to testify against themselves in court.  People cannot present hearsay evidence against defendants.  All of these things make the system fairer.

The main bad point about the American legal system is that it is biased in favor of wealthy people.  Because our system is an adversarial system, the quality of the justice you get depends a lot on the quality of the lawyer you get.  Many, many defendants are too poor to afford good lawyers.  This means that they can be convicted of crimes when a rich person with good lawyers would be acquitted.  This is a fundamental weakness of the American legal system.

A second con of our system is that it is underfunded and overburdened.  Courts have long backups in their caseloads.  Public defenders have too many cases assigned to them.  These problems make it harder to get things done in a timely manner.

Lorraine Caplan eNotes educator| Certified Educator

An additional problem in the American legal system is that there is no goal of finding out the truth in a case.  Since this is an adversarial system, each side presents the evidence most favorable to that side. Thus everything put into evidence is self-serving, not truth-seeking.  Juries must make a decision based upon only the evidence before them, and it is often the case that they have no idea what actually happened in a particular case.  An example of this is when a defendant in a criminal trial does not testify.  The defendant's narrative is never presented, and the defendant cannot be cross-examined.  The jury may make inferences, which are based on circumstantial evidence, but this is not exactly the same as knowing the truth. I am not suggesting that we do away with the right to not incriminate oneself, but I do think this is an issue of concern. I was an attorney for 25 years, always acted ethically, but did not necessarily tell the whole story, since I was under an ethical obligation to do everything possible for my client. I have read that in other countries, judges take a more active role, asking questions, in an effort to ascertain the truth of a case, because this is the ultimate goal of some other legal systems.